The most interesting and influential people in the automotive industry in 2021

Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares, left, and GM CEO Mary Barra, were both on our list for 2021.

A turbulent year like the one we experienced in 2021 tends to reveal real leaders.

Some have stood out by going through a crisis, others by shaking things up in an industry that tends to follow the status quo path. Then there are those who simply knew how to make the business more convenient and efficient.

The editors of TheDetroitBureau.com weighed in on who they thought were the most interesting and influential people in the auto industry for 2021 and put together this list of 14 remarkable leaders.

The established order

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors

Ford CEO Jim Farley
Ford CEO Jim Farley

It’s almost too easy to think of Barra, the CEO of America’s biggest automaker – but that doesn’t mean she isn’t one of them, of course. Once a “shop rat” who started at GM as a co-op student, she’s done more to reshape the automaker since the legendary Alfred P. Sloan. Barra has abandoned loss-making operations in Europe, India, Russia and other parts of the world and is betting on $ 37 billion to switch from internal combustion engines to battery electric vehicles. It’s a big risk that could shape GM’s long-term future. (Paul A. Eisenstein)

Ford CEO Jim Farley

FCA CEO Mike Manley shoots in the head
AutoNation CEO Mike Manley

Like GM’s Barra, Farley has family roots that tie him to Ford, although he first made a name for himself at Toyota. Since joining Ford, Farley’s singular motivation has helped elevate him to CEO in October 2020. Quick to make a decision, Farley is reshaping the automaker to embrace a future focused on electrified technologies , autonomous, connected and shared. Among his most notable actions: a plan to create Blue Oval City, a 6-square-mile all-electric manufacturing complex near Memphis, Tennessee announced in September. (Paul A. Eisenstein)

Former Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley

Few were surprised when Manley announced his decision to leave the new company Stellantis last September to become CEO of AutoNation. The British-born executive has become a strange man after Fiat Chrysler and PSA announced their intention to merge. Although Manley was the CEO of FCA and a key architect of the deal, he emerged in a secondary position, leading North American operations without a seat on Stellantis’ new board of directors. Yet Manley had a significant impact on Chrysler and then FCA, driving the growth of its profitable Jeep and Ram brands, the price that made the merger possible. (Michael Strong)

Stellantis Co-Founder and CEO Carlos Tavares

Akio Toyoda
Toyota Chairman and CEO Akio Toyoda

Tavares led the negotiations creating what is now the world’s fourth largest automaker for Fiat Chrysler and the PSA Group. But he’s already proven his skills in turning around long-struggling French automaker Peugeot when he was named CEO in 2014. It revealed Tavares to be cool, serious, effective and efficient. And that should now pay off, as Stellantis is expected to post a healthy profit at the start of 2022 after only one year of operation. But the new automaker has yet to prove that it is ready for the switch to electricity. (Joseph Szczesny)

The imports

Toyota CEO and Chairman Akio Toyoda

Makoto uchida
Nissan CEO Makoto Uchida

Toyota’s CEO remains one of the industry’s most vocal leaders. A master driver and car enthusiast, he insists that Toyotas are fun to drive. He loves sports cars, but has resisted their engineering, relying on other automakers to do the heavy lifting. It is also resisting the industry’s aggressive march towards electrification as a response to climate change, emphasizing instead a range of solutions, including hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Under the leadership of the grandson of the founder of Toyota, the automaker will end the year as the world’s best-selling automaker. (Larry Printz)

Nissan CEO Makoto Uchida

Herbert Diess, President of Volkswagen AG
Herbert Diess, President of Volkswagen AG

The veteran CEO intervened during Nissan’s worst crisis in decades, the controversial arrest of former boss Carlos Ghon and the subsequent ousting of Hiroto Saikawa. CEO Uchida has set a goal of bringing Nissan back into the dark within two years. It implemented $ 2.8 billion in cost cuts, pushed for a smaller and updated lineup and fewer sales. The company delivered on its promises, declaring its first profitable quarter in 2021. It is revamping (read: electrifies) its portfolio, introducing its second consumer electric vehicle, the Ariya, and brought back the legendary Z car. (Michael Strong)

Herbert Diess, CEO of the Volkswagen Group

As 2021 draws to a close, it is anything but certain that Diess will remain at the helm of Volkswagen a year from now. The former BMW executive was another unexpected leader, taking the reins at VW after the diesel emissions scandal. He responded by initiating a $ 110 billion shift to battery power at the automaker’s 14 brands. But, in the process, Diess clashed with the automaker’s powerful German union. He was forced to step down as boss of the VW brand and, for now, remains a business leader, retaining the support of the Porsche and Piech families. (Paul A. Eisenstein)

Elon Musk 2021
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla

The challengers

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla

Musk, born in South Africa, is both a controversial figure and someone who has made an indelible impact on the global auto industry. After years of struggle, Tesla is now in the dark and sales are increasing worldwide. But Musk – and Tesla – faced a number of challenges in 2021, starting with safety concerns involving Autopilot technology. The company enters 2022 by opening two new vehicle factories, moving its headquarters from California to Texas – and facing a wave of new EV competitors. And Musk, the richest man in the world, is about to pay more than $ 11 billion in taxes. (Michael Strong)

RJ Scaringe, Founder and CEO of Rivian

RJ Scaringe speaks
RJ Scaringe, Founder and CEO of Rivian

Scaringe says he was bitten by the auto virus when he was just a child. The love of cars led him to pursue graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he obtained a doctorate. in automotive engineering. After graduating during the Great Recession he continued his passion by starting his own electric vehicle business, Rivian, which attracted backers like Amazon, began delivering his first vehicles this year, including the pickup truck. R1T and all-electric delivery vans for Amazon. He staged a successful IPO in November that made Scaringe a billionaire. (Joseph Szczesny)

Founder and CEO of Lucid Peter Rawlinson

Lucid CEO Peter Rawlinson
Lucid CEO Peter Rawlinson

Veteran automotive engineer Rawlinson is both General Manager and CTO of Lucid, one of the most promising new electric vehicle manufacturers. The British engineer has worked for a number of automakers over the years, including Jaguar and Lotus, but made a name for himself as the original program manager for the Tesla Model S. He clearly aims to challenge Tesla’s flagship product with the new Lucid Air offering better power and longer range. Rawlinson’s long-term vision won over investors, with Lucid raising billions through a recent PSPC deal. (Paul A. Eisenstein)

Design to impress

Acura Brand Manager Jon Ikeda

Genesis SangYup Lee
SangYup Lee, Hyundai Global Design Director

Like many Acura buyers, Ikeda remains a fan of the brand’s early days, something he seeks to return to the premium brand. Going astray with bland products and lackluster styling, Ikeda has strived to recapture the luster of Acura’s early days, not only through styling, but also with great products. It helps that Ikeda is currently in a management position, he has spent most of his career in the design studio and helped create Acura’s new look. The upcoming return of the Integra is symbolic of the enthusiasm it has for the brand, and of what still needs to be injected into the rest of the line. (Larry Printz)

SangYup Lee, Hyundai Global Design Director

UAW President Gamble fed presser December 2020
UAW President Rory Gamble

Hyundai’s new Global Design Center director Lee replaces Peter Schreyer. The 68-year-old German has masterfully changed the look of Hyundai and Kia vehicles, turning their image of a price leader into something much more ambitious. Lee is no slouch, however, having developed the current well-received lineup for the new luxury brand Genesis. Products like the G80 sedan and the GV70 SUV visually stand out in a crowded field. But it remains to be seen if Lee can continue to bring international momentum to the general designs of Hyundai and Kia, as he did with Genesis. (Larry Printz)

The head of work

Former UAW President Rory Gamble

Biden EV Command Speech
President Joe Biden

Gamble’s tenure as president of United Auto Workers has been short but meaningful. He guided the UAW through a disastrous scandal, which shook the reputation of the union and sent the two former presidents – and a number of other officials – to jail. Before stepping down, Gamble negotiated a settlement with the US Department of Justice to keep the union accountable for its own affairs, albeit under the supervision of a comptroller. The regulation also opened the door to a referendum, giving more power to the union’s base members. Gamble resigned last June. (Joseph Szczesny)

Hi to the chef

President Joe Biden

Following a staunchly anti-regulatory commander-in-chief, Biden launched a number of measures that could dramatically transform the auto industry during this decade. This month alone, the White House reversed the Trump-era setback to average business fuel economy standards. At an average of 40 mpg by 2026, that should further accelerate the shift to electric vehicles. By 2030, Biden wants plug-based products to represent 40-50% of the US market. It also plans a nationwide electric vehicle charging network and a huge increase in incentives for electric vehicles – if Congress agrees. (Paul A. Eisenstein)

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